Wairakei, Taupo, North Island


Wairakei Geothermal park in the Tongariro volcano area of the north island

On my way to Wellington, I stopped off at a place, so I was told by Bernie and Michael and their friends – Taupo that they visit for holiday breaks, and where they had a speed boat I think.

I found it hard to book there and eventually found Blue Light hostel but hadn’t realised how far out it was!  Or what it was!

Dropped off by the bus by the information centre, on the road of out Taupo, I had looked it up and crossed to the bus stop where I found the bus was due out there – and to the waterfall famous and often visited by tourists here – but realised they were only two hourly – there or back!

SO I got on, unsure where I was going, to Wairakei, that turned out to be an estate of homes originally built to house the waterworks staff who built and manned the water run energy factory nearby.   It was an odd place, 6 km outside the town!  A stop off on the bus at the waterfall where you could walk to it – and I did one day, and the shop where memorabilia could be bought from T-shirts to globes!

I stood to get off but then hesitated as I couldn’t see nothing like a hostel nearby!  The driver realised where I was probably headed and dropped me off two stops later at a fenced hostel where schools book or police bring groups of offenders to help them lead better lives etc.  There were several buildings and I had one to myself, choosing my own room by the door and two windows, not far from the house the manager and his family lived in!

He was a big black guy, very friendly, open and helpful.  His wife too spent a few hours one day chatting with me, his daughter of about 7 didn’t like me taking attention from her, and their enormous dog used to sit with me in the shade where I read, wrote or used the internet by the office in their gardens!  It was a bizarre experience but fun!  I had a shared kitchen to myself, a fridge, gardens and a lounge!  On day two other people came and stayed and then a Belgian couple who spent an evening or two with me, watching films, and chatting about traveling, cycling and life!   They were lovely.

I stayed there about four days and nights, resting, showering in the stalls down the corridor, and explored, sat under the big tree at the back at times quietly, and sunbathed in the gardens.   I shopped at the corner shop, owned by a tall New Zealander who had married and brought his Thai wife and child to live there a few months before to run the shop and social club! 

I got to know them and a few locals (quite rough and ready, basic people but friendly enough if you joined in, ate and had a drink at the social club/bar, bought soup, bread and sweets at the shop, and wander the town within a town at times.   I chatted to the manager, who worked with the police (ex policeman himself) to run the events and working there, had two travellers helping out in reception and cleaning, chopping wood along with his brother, and his wife a teacher in Taupo.   Again, learning what real life is like out and about in NZ, and not like I expected at all.  Many seemed like backwater towns to be, dated facilities and ideas, and life at a steady pace.

Taupo itself was for the rich and raucous really, a bit run down off the front and a place of struggle for many I think including Moaris.

Wairakei river walk leads to the bridge over the natual hot springs you can – for free! – simply relax in as it cools from 100 degrees out of the ground (right) flowing into cooler river waters on the left picture …

One day, I set of from Wairakei into town, walking along the river for a couple of hours …that ended up being a six hour trek in hot, hot sunshine!  I did find the wonderful cool river where I sat with ducks, chatted to a foreigner from Europe who came to share photos of the duck family hanging around with me!  I found and sat in the hot springs that come from the ground at boiling point, you can see the steam and dare to touch it and be scalded by 1– degree water, that then flowed down and into the river via a widened water way where people sat and relaxed!   It was hot – 42 degrees near the bridge, as the boiling water flowed and mixed with the cool river water, and then cooler towards the river.  It fascinated me. 

I found somewhere in the trees to change into my swimsuit and at one point, slipped and my head went under although you’re warned not to do that (and I did get an ear infection later from the bacteria that rapidly grows from the cooling waters!)  And from then on my swimsuit foamed bra had black spots of bacteria on it but I washed it so it was safe enough afterwards!

The duck family of mum and two babies who swam around as I paddled my hot, tired feet in the cool river – so clear you could their feet paddling and the rocks to the bottom of the riverbed!

The strong current of the river higher up used for energy production at the water plant that Wairakei was built to support…

It was weird but wonderful to do this, and visit the volcanic park with brightly coloured waters of boiling to warm that came to the earth’s surface here from far underground the volcanic landscape!  A geyser they set off regularly with washing powder for audiences, but which jumps on its own several times a day.

There were people on tyres having fun floating down the strong-flowing river.  I walked on to the children’s park, found a much-needed toilet there before walking on to Taupo itself!  

I had met two girls sitting, tired on the roadside, looking for somewhere or other, the water plant I’d heard about and the motorways joining or major intersections of major roads at the head of the valley.

I got there and was exhausted, with sore feet!  I ate at a waterfront bar, people drinking and laughing, yachts on the bay and hills all around – it was indeed very pretty!

Not much character really but my experience at Blue Light and Wairakei making up for this.  I did another long walk up the front, and back, exploring streets and the medical centre, bus station and shops …a normal town in places, a seaside resort at the lake front and water plant village outside!  Oh and not to forget the natural hot springs all around the area at Tongariro National Park around this area, and the geothermal park at Wairakei (pronounced wy-reeki)!  Golf courses, childrens sites, and other attractions in the area http://www.wairakeitouristpark.co.nz/volcanic-activity-centre.html

Chemicals and heat create bright colours in the boiling waters and pools of the Wairakei geothermal park you can wander around for hours!  Its amazing to see and watch the activity, the geyser and walk the boardwalks created to and above them at times!

Visiting Middle Earth!

Hobbiton and the home of Middle Earth!

A trip out of Rotorua to Hobbiton was a highlight of my trip to New Zealand!  Having been a Hobbit/LOTR (Lord of the Rings) fan since I was 18 years old and my then boyfriend got me to read it and bought me the books, I am hooked!

I hadn’t realised until someone I knew, who had lived in NZ for a while, told me when we met completely by accident and she was giving me tips and ideas.   Then I was obsessed and luckily, EVERYWHERE in NZ there are Middle Earth opportunities for battle sites, building sites and stories and trips from every major place out to filming sites and places!   It was amazing

(See Weta Studios in Wellington, the jeweller from Nelson who made the One Ring and other intersections of tours that have Middle Earth links in them!)

Bringing in 30,000 people a year and the biggest attraction of the country along with the healthy (scenic walking and riding) and risk-taking fanatics (home of the bungee!)

I waited and even called them to make sure I hadn’t missed the bus from Rotorua, and then the dark green Hobbiton signed bus turned the corner towards me!   I was so excited – it was a surprise to me just how excited I was to do this and, in future, other trips around LOTR!   It was filmed here, and then later rebuilt in the field they rented from a farmer for filming and then bought to build and allow tourists to visit.

When I got there I was telling our young guide how long I’d been a fan and how excited (almost tearful!) I was to actually be there and see it all!

And we were not disappointed!   Lots of the visitors are real Hobbit fans and know the scenes, know the books and stories, the underlying adventure and aims and so over the day, a few of us lone females shared photo opportunities, a drink and I had a quick bite in the Green Dragon pub made out like the Hobbit inn in the books!  It was amazing.

img_4899The Party Tree was why they picked this field from the air!  The start of Frodo’s adventures to save the world from Mordor and the One Ring started when Bilbo disappeared from the party!

Small doors for perspectives to make Gandalf look big and larger ones to make Hobbits and dwarves look smaller!   The detail was great – pumpkins in the gardens, tiny windows with curtains, plants and wheelbarrows, ladder against trees where Hobbits pick their apples, washing on the line with small sized clothes and along the paths, signs in Middle Earth font showing the way from the Shire over the hill and to the Green Dragon!   You feel you are there, in the books, and the stories, on an adventure with Frodo and Sam!

Again, another experience I will never forgot and certainly one of the highlights of my trip for me!


Sailing the Bay of Islands

1st February – Whangerai and Bay of Islands

We drove from their lovely house on the hillside in this sea side town, down to the harbour where Cruzee was moored.  The house where I stayed for a day or so with my sisters’ friends who I had met many years before in my 20s!  I was then to go for a week’s sailing trip around the Bay of Islands with Bernie on Cruzee her small boat, to see from the water the annual celebration of Waitangi Festival and the signing of the treaty between Maori and British (where they obviously got ripped off a bit!)

We boarded Cruzee for a few days that ended up being a week, then I think Bernie needed her space as she often took her boat up to visit friends and sail the oceans alone!

My bedroom on board, rowed to a little cove off Russell, swimming in the quiet bays

But it was certainly and unexpected adventure that I will forever treasure!

Mountainous seas at times, a lone penguin floating by the boat in the middle of the ocean (and answering my question as to how they ‘stay out at sea for three months or so to get food’), islands, boats and fantastic yachts, headlands and lighthouses, coves and beachcombing, learning to row the small boat and get to and from shore safely in sometimes inhospitable weather!

Seeing a 3000 year old tree called Tane Mahuta, Spirit of the Forest, that the Maori’s treat with respect they have for nature and power; the Old Man of the forest I missed on this tour who is 4000 years old!

I visited Russell and Paihai by ferry too, saw historical churches damaged by gunfire and the churchyard of 19th century graves of the first British settlers in New Zealand who fought at times with the Maori over land and possessions.

Bernie at the helm, drinks in Russell listening to music and relaxing, Bernie & I ready to board Cruzee for a week long sail in the Bay of Islands!

The Maori are not indigenous to New Zealand i.e. they too discovered it and then inhabited it (discovered but not settled first by the Portugese that happened also in South America!) and they have only been there on the island for 800 years!   The British in the 1800s.    Before that the whole of New Zealand was inhabited only by birds or flightless birds – no other animals or mammals on land at all!

This fascinated me and the museums told the stories, pictures and ‘statues’ of these 6-8 foot flightless birds that used to roam the forests but were hunted to extinction by the Maori.  Although not an extensive settlement of these people, they need a lot of land and food and settled mainly in the warmer north Islands with only one tribe inhabiting and settling the south island at the beginning.


Russell’s historical churches and buildings, old stories of bygone days of European settlers in NZ

The Maori cultural shows are well worth the visits – to see demonstrations o how they lived, the battle cries and the dress and culture.  At city museums, evening tours with food cooked underground as they used to that was delicious, and dancing/family life demos too.   I loved it!

Maori culture demonstrations in museums or tours and evening meals like Mitai,; showing games like poi, songs and battle practice, battle cries like the Haka so familiar with the All Blacks Ruby Team


Awesome Auckland!

Auckland Harbour from the harbour cruise to Rangitoto


I travelled from Auckland after a few days, where I made some unlikely ‘friends’ – two guys I started chatting with in an Irish pub on the steep road through Auckland on about day 2.  Hoping for some later music, they told me about another pub up the road and I went there with Pat (no, born and bred and in NZ, looked like an orc but a lovely guy!).  His pal, from Wales, was a little wild looking, had settled there many years ago and met his partner.   He didn’t come with us, just calling in for a drink with Pat.

Up at Father Ted’s, another Irish pub and love the name, he introduced me to the band of two – one looked like a regular Hobbit and the other like ‘a hobbit from over the hill’!  Maybe it was the drink (I had far too much!) but I enjoyed the evening immensely, met lovely people and had music too that I like!  And I dragged myself back up the steep hill to my hostel room and slept.

Father Ted’s with Pat on the right, and the buy from Wales & also the only band to play in Hobbiton’s Green Dragon Inn are Gerry O’Neill & Jono (above left) who make up the band of The Grail

The hostel here was two or three rooms connected by a teeny kitchen with sink, kettle, cupboards and an entrance door, then the room doors off there.  Very cosy!  Although I didn’t see much of the others, and even sharing the tiny shower/toilet didn’t pose too much of a problem.  People tended to stay a few days, like me I guess, and it was right near the University area so no doubt some students in parts too.

I visited the tower but didn’t go up it as not worth the cost to me; I wandered the streets, found the library and the Starbucks across the road for wifi (not in the room, some on my phone eventually).   I found shops, bars, supermarkets and lots of traffic.   And people sort of spoke English – but very peculiar pronunciations that people tried to teach me!   “Chups” not chips etc.

I did enjoy Auckland though.  I got to do a harbour cruise and see the yachts, speed boats and lived on boats, the stereotypical volcano across the harbour that I actually visited too – travelling around with a guide who lived there, on the black, lava rock island – by tractor-driven ‘train’, and saw the many trees and flowers that have fought their way through the rock, adapted to minimal water as no soil, and the rough terrain that tears boots and skin alike!   There are birds here and a few animals but in the main they are pests and they are trying to cull them and clear it and managing it for the most part!  People are employed to travel over this rough land, hard walking up and down the rocks, to find and remove pests like possums and ferrets that kill indigenous birds and things.

Auckland’s tower and main street, the view from the volcano island Rangitoto

We climbed up to the top of the volcano, over man made wooden platforms that became the norm in NZ in the forested areas, and the views were magnificent!  But it was a hard climb, and at one point I encouraged some tired and bored young people to keep going up to see the scenes above!   Our group were friendly enough but not chatty all the time but I enjoyed the visit and history – learning about ‘bach’s’ – small wooden huts built in the 50s for single working men who were cleaning the island and building roads.   These are now holiday homes or year-round homes for some and we got to see in one as it would have been.

Black volcanic lava hardened over years and water, as we arrived at Rangitoto island in Auckland harbour and it’s classic shape

A day in the life …of a traveller

Today is Thursday, 18 Feb and I got up in Napier, leaving at 9 am on the Naked Bus* to Wellington New Zealand and breakfasted in Hastings down the road half an hour.


I am able to use my bargain Naked Passport bus ticket (30 trips between towns for just $246 or £123!) to get around and do even quick journeys on main routes like today. Having stayed in Napier two nights after all, even though the Art Deco week festival means accommodation is booked out already in Hastings too; I usually only book 1-2 days ahead, I am leaning here I have to be more organised ahead of time. Its easier to just decide to go or stay, but this is the first time Ive had to do this so it’s new to me!

Continue reading “A day in the life …of a traveller”